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Thread: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing dow

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    Administrator Islander's Avatar
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    Default The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing dow

    Ray Williams
    Sat, 07 Jun 2014

    There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It's the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.
    Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason, says in an article in the Washington Post, "Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism."

    https://www.sott.net/article/313177-...own-of-America
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    Veteran Member highlander's Avatar
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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    People who are curious, read and learn. People who are not, do not.

    From my limited perspective, people are no less intellectual now than in the previous 50 years. When I was growing up, I asked my mother who she was voting for (probably a presidential election) and she told me. I asked her why she would vote for that candidate and she said "because our family has always voted for that party." I asked her why she didn't research more to make an informed decision and she asked "how am I supposed to do that?"

    Years later, I asked her what those gnarly "stinging worms" in Louisiana turn into. She said they don't turn into anything, they're just caterpillars. I said "Mom, every caterpillar eventual turns into a moth or a butterfly of sorts." She said "No, they don't. I've lived here 60 years and my daddy never told me anything like that." She said that. I was just speechless. This is also a woman who said she did very well in science in high school.

    There is a lot more where that came from. Yet, her parents were basically intelligent people. My grandfather read constantly -- especially about history and loved to talk about it. My grandmother loved doing crossword puzzles in the newspaper. They both were voracious newspaper readers which means nothing.

    My daughter and I were wondering why teachers like to ask so many questions rather than just give information (because it's a pet peeve for the both of us). So I went digging around on the internet and found some teacher-to-teacher website. The teacher who wrote the article that I read said that he was amazed to discover that many students go days, weeks, "even months" without answering a verbal question. And he threw in an exclamation point for emphasis. I cannot fathom their thinking. They seem to approach education as though we all think/function alike. I never raised my hand to answer a question. If I was called on, I gave the answer; but resented being called on. My favorite teachers left me alone to draw in my notebooks with my head on my desk (and my grades were excellent). I detested school from the first day of grade 1 to the last day of grade 12. It was a virtual prison. Most of what I know, I learned on my own. In school, I took the classes required, did the work required -- just to get a piece of paper. I don't remember most of it because I didn't care. I would imagine that is the case with most of the people the author, Ray Williams, is referring to. With the world at one's fingertips why study something you're not interested in?

    Also, many intellectuals have an attitude about them that repels many people. Some literally look down their noses when speaking. When people on the internet get into arguments they start throwing around their formal education while somehow managing to look like idiots. "I have a masters from __________." "Well I have a masters from _______." "Clearly you did not study ________." It's pathetic. In essence, they are not admired. Intelligence, wit, creativity, and talent are still admired but it's when they are presented in a real-world, approachable way -- someone you can watch a stupid movie with while eating pizza, drinking beer, and discussing alternative plot lines and special effects.

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    Veteran Member Katee's Avatar
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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    You know, the "cult of ignorance" is pretty broad. I belong to a forum (Quora) with a diverse population of people asking questions and discussing different topics. (I think i found it as part of a fan group of a novel i like.) Politics are often discussed there and there is one frequent poster who is a strong Bernie Sanders supporter and i find everything i've ever read by him on that topic, and on the possibility of a Clinton presidency very well written and thoroughly thought out. (No politics here, right? But i'm not making a political statement.)

    However, this morning the same highly intelligent person posted about labeling GMOs and he said that the people who want GMOs labeled are not "following the science" and basically stated that people who want GMOs labeled are too stupid to know that GMOs are "well researched" and not a danger to anyone. He said that labeling GMOs will have a knee jerk reaction from people too stupid to recognize the benefits of GMOs and will ultimately harm the farmers. I haven't the energy to get drawn into that argument, nor do i know where to begin to begin to argue with him. Plus, i think anyone who is that sure of "the science" can't be dissuaded from their beliefs.

    Our cultural belief in "science" approximates religious belief. The continued trust in fluoride, and vaccinations, and FDA-approved drugs, and GMOs, and so much more is hard for me to understand. The faith that people have in their doctors or anything else where people tend to say, "the science is irrefutable," is hard for me to believe.

    Frankly, most of the people making that statement are highly intelligent and educated folks who, i believe, have never, ever opened their minds enough to consider that the "science" may be biased or manipulated. They seem to think if they are told that it was a "gold standard, double-blind study," there is no reason to question it. And if i ever should have the gall to present a study posted on Collective Evolution or Mercola or anything by Dr. Oz (i essentially never use Natural News as a source) these folks immediately dismiss it as a sham or quackery without ever even reading the link. Even if i tell them an article from the CDC or NIH Medline Plus was the basis for the article, they won't be caught dead going to a link they consider to promote "pseudoscience." The closed-mindedness of people who choose to look at the world this way is alarming to me.

    I don't know how else to say this. So much of the "dumbing down" in our society seems to have a component of closed-mindedness on a huge scale and across many different ranks of people on all kinds of subjects. I guess we all have our pet philosophies on which we see things rather as a sensitive issue and don't think outside the box all that well. I know i am pretty passionate on "outside the box" and unconventional thinking on the above mentioned issues (fluoride, and vaccinations, and FDA-approved drugs, and GMOs) and when presented with thoughts counter to my own i tend to dismiss them with my own confirmation bias (only believing what backs my own thoughts). Everyone falls prey to this somewhat, but in order not to fit the "dumbing down" from whatever corner it comes, we need to at least be willing to look at things from other points of view.

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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    Yes, we are clearly seeing a point of tension and I blame our current system of public education. The ignorance and "dumbing down," I believe are today, not only being influenced, but actually taught. English academics is dying, and in math, close is good enough. Everyone gets a trophy. The NEA is failing with an F-. The public educational system is in dire need of a major overhaul. I'm foaming at the mouth to get political, but I am aware politics are not tolerated on this site. I will try to get away with saying that I hope to see a presidential nominee that will influence (not execute) in the opposite direction, the most change in our political system that will help "smarten up" our people. Of the three candidates left standing for the the presidential nomination, I consider only two to be influential. As far as the third, she scares the hell out of me...
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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    A mark of intelligence is questioning what you've been told, doing one's own research as is possible, and analyzing what they find. One could have a collection of degrees and not be intelligent. I've met them, loads of them. Part of my job is correcting their mistakes (not just typos but bad science). People who don't realize that tend to both trust the systems and blame the systems.

    I think the two primary problems are 1) people learning error, and 2) people not learning truth or facts. Who is qualified to define the absolute facts to be presented in formal education? How can we change a system that only hires from the pool indoctrinated by its own system? How can students be taught something they are not interested in?

    I had a really hard time with math when I was going through school. It made no sense to me. My big a-ha moment came when my brother received a little hand-held electronic math game for Christmas. I quickly became addicted to it and good at it and therefore much better at math. Our education system needs to be virtually dismantled and rebuilt with consideration for all learning styles and a clear set of priorities.

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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    There's a whole stack of statements here that I want to respond to, but it's "time to get the garden in" in Maine and my disposable time is limited. A badly-needed rainy day would give me that time, if only it would come. Meanwhile, some short bites....

    Highlander says, "My daughter and I were wondering why teachers like to ask so many questions rather than just give information." To me these are the worst teachers, the ones who think their job is to shotgun at their students, everything they've learned about a topic, then test the kids to see how much of the information they've internalized. Yes, sometimes teaching requires supplying information, such as how to work out algebraic equations or construct a Punnet square. But teaching? Teaching involves demonstration...and generating excitement... and arousing curiosity... and motivating... and leading students to think critically and make discoveries of their own. And how do you do this? You prompt them with questions. If teaching was merely the process of conveying information, why not just give them a textbook to read and check in 15 weeks later to see whether they understood what they read? Why not? Because learners need guidance and interpretation. They need to process what they read, and question it themselves. E.g., if states had rights, why couldn't Southern states have the right to enslave Africans and profit from them? Was the Civil War actually fought over "states' rights"?

    Here's how this works in English. I want to teach definition, so I begin with information: how to define. Determine the class of things to which that term belongs, and then specify how it differs from others in that class. More information: I give examples. Hat: an article of clothing worn on the head. Clock: a mechanical (or battery-powered) device to display the time. When I actually taught this in a residential situation, we played the "definition game" for a few minutes once a week. I'd give them two similar terms (suitcase/briefcase, evening gown/nightgown) and as a group we'd work out a definition for each. I'd write the first responses on the board. "Are you happy with that? No? What's wrong with it? Well, improve it. OK, does that make it clear? No? What's missing?" Kids would offer qualifying words. One suggestion would be replaced by another. Word order would change. Everybody got involved. They fed off each other. They had to think. My job was to keep the encouragement going, praise new ideas, direct them to the point where they agreed that the result was satisfactory. I'm sure you get what skills were being developed while they engaged in these activities.

    Granted, these were emotionally disturbed teens in a residential setting, but I used similar techniques at the college level. Let's suppose, for example, that we are in a freshman writing class. I have assigned a short essay, due in a week, and given them the last 15 minutes of the hour to begin playing with ideas, free-writing. Now I walk around the room glancing at what kids have written. "What a great title!" as I read it aloud. "Here's another one," reading it. "How's this for a thesis statement?" "Wow, listen to how Sherry describes terror!" "Look at how Jared uses repetition!" I'm not asking questions, I'm not giving information (except in a back-door sort of way), but I am praising and encouraging and recognizing something of value in every single piece of writing in the room. Oh, and asking questions? OK, I'd write a tough sentence on the board, then ask, "How could we make that less clumsy? Less wordy? More gender-neutral"? Over a reading assignment: "Can you find the thesis statement? If not, at what point do you understand what the thesis is? Who disagrees with the conclusion? Did anyone find logical errors?" and so on. It helps to give some direction along with the assignment, like cueing them to look for errors in logic as they read.
    I've gone on way too long and there are pepper plants waiting to be tucked in. I want to come back later to respond to other posters because this is such a provocative topic, but I'd like to know if this is what Highlander means by "questions" vs. "information."
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    Veteran Member Katee's Avatar
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    Default Re: The cult of ignorance in the United States: Anti-intellectualism and the "dumbing

    I think different people learn differently. Highlander and her daughter are probably the type for whom learning the information alone creates excitement. But for many of the others of us, just having information regurgitated out and expecting us to take it in is quite boring. Engendering excitement in students helps. But then, some teachers are almost certainly not as engaging as Islander and their questions - the idea is to encourage thinking - becomes just as boring if they can't get the students involved in the process.

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